Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Welcome Home (#80) (Ending our blogging days with an even number!)

We are back in Texas and have been basking in the fun of friends and family. We were able to speak in church the first Sunday that we were home, and heard Karen share a few thoughts about going to Palau, and also her experiences as a missionary helper.

Gail talked about how missionary service sanctifies us, and also about the growing need  for Senior couples. Then Becky Rosenlund Brassard sang a beautiful song for us.

Unfortunately by this time, we were out of time so Gary shared his Palau rescue experience which totally captivated all his Scouts. His well prepared homecoming talk, which has been cut twice for length was not given. So here it is in its shortest version. ENJOY!


The Book of Mormon—Heavenly Proof

The first 2 sentences in preach my gospel under the book of Mormon heading teach that, “The Book of Mormon is powerful evidence of the divinity of Christ.  It is also proof of the Restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith.”  In the next few minutes I’d like to give you a few of the powerful ways that the book of Mormon has proven itself to me.  

First, I believe the coming forth of the Book of Mormon was a miraculous feat.  Joseph Smith received the gold plates containing Mormon’s abridgement of the religious record of his people in late September 1827, when Moroni, as a resurrected being, delivered them to him.  As was common in rural areas in those days, Joseph Smith was largely uneducated.  To assist him with the translation, God provided for him an ancient translation instrument called the Urim and Thummim.  He was also blessed by the help of scribes who wrote what he dictated as he translated.  Among those scribes were his wife, Emma, Martin Harris, a prosperous farmer; and Oliver Cowdery, a schoolteacher.  Emma described what it was like to serve as Joseph’s scribe: “No man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired, for, when I was acting as his scribe, Joseph would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him.”  How could anyone have done that? Unfortunately, most of the translation work done by Emma and Martin Harris during the first 15 months that Joseph had the plates was lost.  The bulk of what we have in the Book of Mormon today was dictated to Oliver Cowdery between April 7, 1829 and late June that same year.  That’s 65-75 days total at a rate of 7-8 of our current pages per day.    The Book of Mormon is not a simple text.  It is a complex, thousand year history of an ancient civilization.  It proposes geography; contains a numbering system based on eight rather than ten; talks of government, politics, war, theology, economy, prophecy, history, and poetry.  It uses many different styles of writing and incorporates figures of speech, simile, metaphor, narration, exposition, description, oratory, epic, lyric, logic and parable. Layer after layer of meaning unfolds to the careful reader, too much for an uneducated twenty-four-year-old to have invented.  No plausible evidence exists that anyone else wrote it, so where did it come from?  The implication, of course, is that it came from God and actually was written on gold plates. Considering the Book of Mormon’s theological depth, historical complexity, consistency, clarity, artistry, accuracy and profundity the prophet JS translation is a phenomenal achievement—even a miraculous feat and he did it in less than 3 months!

Secondly, the Book of Mormon proves itself to me because it makes geographical sense.  Take for example the Book of Mormon stories of Lehi’s family leaving Jerusalem in the early sixth century BC in search of a new promised land, and compare that account to ancient historical sources from the period.  The book describes their journeying down the Arabian Peninsula paralleling the Red Sea turning eastward, at a place the Book of Mormon calls Nahom, toward the southern coast bordering the Indian Ocean. This is where they began building a ship before beginning an ocean voyage to the New World.  
In 1829 when the Book of Mormon was written there was no Gazetteer in existence that mentioned Nahom.   That’s because it wasn’t until 1994 that archeologists discovered it and dated it to 600 years before Christ.  It’s a striking bull’s-eye to find in the Book of Mormon the exact name, at the exact time in the exact place predicted by the Book of Mormon geography.  Nahom being mentioned is spectacular substantiation.   

Next, the Book of Mormon account describes Lehi’s party coming to a small green oasis on the Arabian coast where they found trees they could work into lumber for the ship.  At Joseph Smith’s time the entire western world believed that the entire Arabian Peninsula was empty. In fact, it was known as the Empty Quarter.  There is no green spots mentioned in the bible, nor were any known to exist.  Nevertheless, such a green spot does exist along the otherwise barren Arabian coastline.  The Dofar Area of Arabia is no doubt the green spot that Lehi’s party called Bountiful.  Moisture from cool water rising from the Indian Ocean is picked up by monsoon winds. When that moisture laden air hits the cliffs it drops that moisture creating a tropical monsoon forest.  Fruit trees, eatable plants, honey bees and trees large enough to build ships all exist in abundance.  Predicting that a bountiful land could exist along what was thought to be the barren Arabian coast is another stunning bulls-eye for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

You will remember that when Nephi got to Bountiful he only had one question for the Lord when he was told to build a ship.  That question was where do I go to obtain ore to make tools.  It turns out that there does exist in the Dofar area in Arabia a couple small deposits where iron ore has been extruded from the metamorphic rock.  It comes right to the surface of the ground.  The ore has a soft laminate and Iron Carbonate combination that makes it super easy to smelt and being exposed to the air the iron oxide is highly concentrated—it’s as though the Lord prepared it far in advance so it would be ready to go when Nephi needed it to make his ship building tools.  None of these ore deposits were known to exist in Joseph Smith’s day. Even today, they have not been commercially developed because of their relatively small size.  Finding geological evidence of iron ore in the land, Bountiful, is another striking bulls-eye for the Book of Mormon account.  Remember, all of this is from an uneducated, Joseph Smith, who at one point in the translation, asked Emma, who was serving at his scribe at the time, if Jerusalem really had a wall around it.

These accounts of convergence between Book of Mormon details and historical scholarship are convincing proof to me of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon account.  

Third, I believe the testimony of the 12 witnesses to the Book of Mormon. First we have the Prophet Joseph Smith himself who said, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”  8 of the witnesses held the “gold plates” in their hands, and they saw the engravings. They hefted the record and attested that they know for a surety that Joseph Smith had the record.  Were they coconspirators?  Were they pressured to sign the statement?  To the contrary, most of them suffered greatly for their witness but none disavowed their testimony.  Finally, let’s look at the 3 special witnesses, who testified that “an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates and the engravings thereon” furthermore, they testified that they heard the voice of God declare that they were translated by the gift and power of God.  All three of those special went to extraordinary lengths to affirm their testimony before their death’s, and avow the truth of what they had seen and heard.  In a court of law two witnesses are sufficient to establish the truth of a proposition. How solid, then is the testimony of 12 men?  In my mind, their testimony is rock solid proof that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity.  

Fourth, I believe the Book of Mormon is true because of the artistry of it’s construction.  Biblical scholars are impressed with Book of Mormon poetic forms equal in value and style to biblical poetic verse.  The most impressive types of Hebrew poetry are called parallelism.  The Book of Mormon is replete with parallelisms.  The poetic patterns serve, as they do in the Bible, to emphasize messages, define and expand them, make them more memorable, and structure them.  One form of parallelism, chiasmus, has been extensively studied, but there are an abundance of other parallelisms, more than 25 different types, in the Book of Mormon.

My favorite type of parallelism is chiasmus.  The history of the discovery of this type of parallelism is instructive. In 1967 John Welsh was serving on a mission in Germany.  One p-day he and his companion attended a lecture were the speaker discussed Hebrew poetic forms in the bible and paid particular attention to chiasmus.  About two weeks later Elder Welsh awoke with a start. It was 4:00 a.m. and the thought that was in his mind was this, if the Book of Mormon really is what it claims to be, a religious text composed by writers familiar with Hebrew Poetic styles, then, he thought, I should be able to find chiasmus in the Book of Mormon.  So Elder Welsh began his search that morning; in his personal study he was reading in Mosiah. He began right where he left off the day before. After a few minutes of study he came upon Mosiah 5:10-12.  (chiasmus is like a big X. the items in a list are repeated in reverse order, 5,4,3,2,1,1,2,3,4,5)  You can imagine how excited Elder Welsh and his companion were—they started telling people about chiasmus in their door approaches that very day.  

Next let’s take a look at Alma chapter 36 where the entire chapter is a chiasmus.   It is, in my opinion, the single most brilliant example of the Hebrew poetic form in all of recorded scripture.   In that chapter Alma the younger retells his conversion experience to his son, Helaman.  What Alma talks about in the first verse is repeated in the last verse, the idea in the second verse is repeated in the second to last verse and so on.  The chiasmus pattern continues and focus our attention on the pivotal point in Alma conversion, he remembers his father prophesying unto the people concerning the coming of Jesus Christ (in verse 18 we have the turning point) and as his mind caught hold upon this thought he cries unto Jesus, have mercy on me.  Like King Benjamin, Alma uses the chiasmus form to focus our attention on how the atonement of Jesus Christ was the pivotal moment in his life.  He uses the poetic form to emphasize the doctrinal truth. The indisputable existence of intricate, deliberate, and artful chiasmus in the Book of Mormon raises a big question about it’s origin: how could it possibly be the product of an early nineteenth century writer?  To me, the great number of parallelisms is evidence that demands that we at least seriously consider the possibility that the book is a document from antiquity.  

Finally, let’s look at the evidence provided by the Book of Mormon of the divinity of Jesus Christ. While serving in Palau my favorite assignment was teaching the youth SS class.  Consequently, in 2012 I was able to study the Book of Mormon as only a teacher does.   There is an amazing consistency throughout the book as various prophets testify of Jesus Christ.  All ten of the major prophet writers consistently taught 7 things about Jesus Christ.  Leave it to Alma the younger, who served for 8 years as chief judge, to summarize those seven ideas in a single verse.  (Read Alma 33:22).  That’s the seed mentioned in Chapter 32 that Alma wants us to plant in our hearts (see vs 23). It’s not just the seed of faith, it’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ! Accompanied by the power of the Holy Ghost, reading and pondering the great sermons on Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon bring a certain witness of their truthfulness.  The Book of Mormon is replete with examples of disciples and prophets who knew, understood, and were transformed by the enabling power of the Atonement in making the journey of mortality.  

Now let’s consider those many writers in the book of Mormon who saw Christ Personally.  The brother of Jared, Nephi and Jacob saw the premortal Christ.  Mormon and Moroni saw the risen Christ.  In addition, multitudes were present during the Savior’s brief, but powerful ministry among the Nephites (see 3 Nephi 11-28) Think of the evidentiary value of 2500 people testifying that “we saw him, we felt the prints of the nails in his hands and feet, we know he is the Christ!” The testimony of the Book of Mormon confirms the testimony of the Bible that Jesus is the Only Begotten Son of God and the Savior of the world.  

I was not present to sit with Oliver Cowdery under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven as he wrote uninterrupted as Joseph Smith translated with the Urim and Thummim.  I did not journey with Nephi past Nahom to the Land Bountiful, and watch him build a ship with tools he had made himself.  I was not with Alma when he shared his masterful account of the pivotal moment in his life with his son, Helaman.   Nor I was among the Nephite crowd who touched the wounds of the resurrected Lord.  But my testimony of this record and the peace it brings to the human heart—given to me through the whispering of the Holy Spirit IS sure.  I testify of this book as surely as if I had, with the Three Witnesses, seen the angel Moroni or, with the Eight Witnesses, handled the plates of gold.  I know it’s true!
I invite you to open yourself up to the possibility that what I’ve said today could be true.  I invite you to choose faith instead of skepticism and doubt. I invite you to read, ponder and ask God if these things are not true.  I invite you to not just cling to the iron rod of which the Book of Mormon is a part, but hold fast to it—for it will lead you to the Savior.  When you reach the tree of life which is a symbol for the life, ministry and atoning sacrifice of the Savior I invite you to fall down and worship at His feet. I invite you to partake of the fruit which represents receiving of ordinances and covenants whereby the atonement can become fully efficacious in our lives. I invite you to taste the fruit which is a symbol for the blessings of the atonement, not just the redeeming and cleansing power but also the enabling powers of the Atonement that we may all move from bad to good and good to better and become a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.  In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.

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